back to article Buying a USB adapter: Pennies. Knowing where to stick it: Priceless

It's a tale from before the times of Bitlocker and TPM in On Call today as a Register reader demonstrates the importance of knowing one's true worth. Our hero, whom we shall call "Cliff", was on the phone to a friend whose brother-in-law has recently deceased. As is so often the case, the individual concerned had left for the …

  1. Giles C Silver badge

    Seems ok

    Cliff quoted a price to do the job, in this case it took him only 15 minutes, however it could have taken a couple of hours, what would the client have done when he asked for double the fee,

    This is the basic difference between a t&m (time and materials) or a fixed rate job.

    It is amazing how many people agree to one and then when they see what transpires suddenly want to backtrack and change the deal.

    1. simonlb Silver badge

      Re: Seems ok

      What people need to remember in situations like this is that they are not just paying you for what you do, they are paying you for using your knowledge to work out what needs to be done to fix the issue.

      I'd have taken the guys money and then told him to never contact me for help again in the future for being such a dick.

      1. Red Ted

        Re: Seems ok

        A variation on the old story of the maintenance man being called in after retirement to fix a machine. He walk up to the machine and hits it in just the right place. The machine runs just fine after that. Later he submits an invoice:

        Hitting the machine: $1

        Knowing where to hit the machine: $999

      2. oiseau

        Re: Seems ok

        ... they are paying you for using your knowledge ...

        Indeed ...

        We've all, in our respective professions/trades have come across one like this.

        As an architect, I have done many a job/consultation on a pro-bono basis.

        It was both my choice and the right thing to do.

        Obviously, quite happy to do it.

        But throughout my professional life I have been approached by some people who, having deep pockets and being quite able to pay my reasonable consultation fee, found it proper to go to silly extremes to try to get my professional opinion/services for nothing.

        My all time favourite:

        - Client:

        "But ...

        $XYX.AA for this small sketch which you drew up in a couple of minutes?"

        - Me:

        "No, absolutely not.

        The sketch you asked me for is absolutely free of charge.

        The $XYZ.AA is for the 30+ years professional experience moving my hand."


      3. Rol

        Re: Seems ok

        "So your not happy with my overly generous quote of £50, well...I suppose I could do it at cost"

        "Yes, that's more like it"

        "OK, so the three years I spent at university, instead of working in a warehouse, earning money I could use to get drunk and party, works out at about £60,000. Add in the 10,000 hours I have spent honing my skills outside of work, which is about £100,000..."

        "Okay, okay, here's the fifty quid"

    2. NightFox

      Re: Seems ok

      If this was just a business client, then yes. But when even the bereaved relative of a friend is viewed as an opportunity for profit?

      Yes, I know that 'time is money', but who else would really have even thought about charging for this?

      1. NightFox

        Re: Seems ok

        Wow, 2 downvotes already, what have we become? Are times really that hard? If altruism must come second to profit, even the big bad companies that we all love to hate on here understand the financial value of goodwill.

        1. Justin S.

          Re: Seems ok

          First rule of downvotes: don't complain about the downvotes.

          Second rule of downvotes: engage in serious introspection that you might be wrong.

          1. Yes Me Silver badge

            Re: Seems ok

            If the "client" really was a friend, he was wrong, friendship-endingly wrong. If it was just a casual acquaintance, fair enough to charge, and cheap at the price.

            1. Nuff Said

              Re: Seems ok

              I had a friend (well, neighbour I got along with) who was an ex-mechanic who would service our car for a reasonable cost in his free time. Then he got a PC to run some engine tuning software - when it went wrong he expected me to "have a look" (i.e. fix) it for free. Many people don't see work you do sitting at a desk as "real" work.

              1. richdin

                Re: Seems ok

                I had a 2 cylinder 4 valve dual carb Italian motorbike. One day I got it in my head to tune the engine, as it was sounding a bit rough. I managed to barely drive to my mechanic to unravel the mess. He gave me a resounding smack across the face and stated loudly - " I don't try fix my computer, YOU keep your hands f'in hands away from your bike!"

                1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

                  Re: Seems ok

                  I used to have a Yamaha Fazer which would get occasional MOT failures due to the brakes binding (the calipers were a little bit sticky). I took it upon myself to try to remedy the situation by taking the pads out and giving them a bit of a clean before taking the bike in for its test. When I went back to pick it up later, the mechanic told me that I was lucky that I'd only ridden it a short distance and not braked too hard, as the pad that I have put in back-to-front in my dark garage had only scored the disc mildly...

            2. Pantagoon

              Re: Seems ok

              The client / friend agreed to the fee and shouldn't moan about it later.

        2. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

          Working for free

          The funeral home didn't work for free, the attorneys involved in the estate probate won't work for free, yet you seem to think techies should work for free, simply because a death was involved.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Working for free

            Well he didn't recover Grandma's pictures and recipe files. This was a critical business spreadsheet with no backup.

            I think he charged a reasonable amount.

            1. Martin-73 Silver badge

              Re: Working for free

              YES, that right there is the difference. I agree with NightFox if it had been grandma's pics... but as you say, it wasn't

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Seems ok

        How close a friend? A best mate or someone he just knew slightly? We're not told. If you start doing that sort of thing for a friend you'll be surprised how many friends you've suddenly acquired, and how many relatives, not necessarily bereaved, they have. Fifty quid sounds like mates rates.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Seems ok

          "Fifty quid sounds like mates rates."

          Absolutely. The bid to beat was a thousand; if this were strictly business I'd have suggested £900 to win the job. I'm not getting out of bed for 50 quid unless you're near and dear; the hourly rate sounds nice but the total is barely beer money and hardly worth the hassle. In that sense I can see not bothering to ask for money at all, but given that it was agreed beforehand and we don't know what their relationship was I have to agree with the secretary: Cliff did the family a favour, doing a critical job promptly and conveniently for 95% less than the next-best offer. No pleasing some people.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Seems ok

            "promptly and conveniently"

            And competently. The friend down the pub who would do it for free might just have decided the only way to deal with it would be to reinstall, reformatting the disk.

      3. Giles C Silver badge

        Re: Seems ok

        Well I have friends who are mechanics, builders, plumbers etc. if I need work done then I will probably call one of them but I will always pay for the job to be done.

        Yes they might give me a small discount but at the end of the day it is their livelihood and income that I am expecting to take a hit because I am a friend.

        As an example I wanted a car bonnet collecting from the other side of the country, I have a friend who has a business transporting cars.

        He gave me a price to pick it up but I had to wait until he had a job in the area or it wasn’t worth him doing I paid him for the job and he collected it. I wouldn’t have dreamed of asking for it for free.

        1. anothercynic Silver badge

          Re: Seems ok

          Bingo. I don't even hint at mates' rates because it's disrespectful to their work and expertise. If they offer mates rates, then I am not going to decline, but hinting at it is just rude.

          I expect to be charged full whack for whatever someone does for me, because I wouldn't expect to be treated differently just because we're friends.

          1. TheCynic

            Re: Seems ok

            Mates rates is paying their full going rate, how else would they be able to pay for a round at the pub

            1. Paul Cooper

              Re: Seems ok

              Mates rates is paying their full going rate, how else would they be able to pay for a round at the pub

              Indeed. In fact, if I get a friend or relation to do a job for me, I pay whatever the going rate is; in most cases, they need the money more than I do.

      4. gotes

        Re: Seems ok

        Enough with the virtue signalling. "A friends brother in law" hardly sounds like a close friend or family member. They agreed a price; a price that I think is pretty reasonable for a one off job.

      5. Martin

        Re: Seems ok

        If this was just a business client, then yes. But when even the bereaved relative of a friend is viewed as an opportunity for profit?

        But it was a business client. When he queried the amount, the secretary shouted "Pay the man - he's saved you a load of money." If there's a secretary, it's in an office. If it's in an office, it's a business client.

      6. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: Seems ok

        The reason for the spreadsheet retrieval was entirely business. And especially when a (fixed) fee is agreed on before the work even starts, haggling afterwards is just not a good move.

      7. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: Seems ok

        "who else would really have even thought about charging for this?"

        I have a set of tiers. If you're a close friend or family member, I'll do it for free at two in the morning if it's urgent. I'll ask you if it's urgent first or if we could wait for the morning, but if for some reason it is, that's fine. These are the people that, if I have something urgent, I expect would act to help me even if it would be inconvenient.

        If you're a less close friend, then I'll do it for free when it's convenient. They can bring over the machine and we'll have a crack at it. I'll not guarantee success, but I will try my hardest to do it for them. Once again, this is a friend with whom I have a real friendship, meaning we frequently do things because we like each other, not someone who mostly talks to me when they've got a task they want done.

        If you are, as it sounds in this case, a person I've never met before, then maybe not. I have been asked to do free work by various people, often people who don't know me very well. It's often someone who doesn't understand the scale of what they want. Among the requests I've received are "Could you just write a quick phone app for me", "I just want my website to look different and you write programs, so you should be able to design a better one", and "Could you come fix my business's technology, because we stopped having any IT support eighteen months ago and the accumulated breakage is starting to be noticed". I could spend a lot of my time fulfilling these requests, but I don't want to. I have the abilities and my employer pays me to use them. People I don't know should be aware of this, and I first inform them of the time and effort it would cost me to do what they've asked.

        This doesn't mean I'll charge unreasonably. Nor did this guy do so; £50 is relatively small and significantly less than the quote from a company. That the action was necessary because someone died doesn't much matter. He wasn't asking to recover something of sentimental value. He was asking for a business file that someone hadn't backed up. We don't even know how close the people were.

        1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

          Re: Seems ok

          You just summed up my rates very well. My quick response on such "Hey, can you do it just so?" is "Only family for free. Do you or your daughter want to marry me?"

          1. TDog

            Re: Seems ok

            Well if either is a vicar they probably could...

            1. Ignazio

              Re: Seems ok

              If either does that for free that can be worth a couple of thousands in saved "donations". Would totally consider.

        2. J. Cook Silver badge

          Re: Seems ok

          That's one of the reason I more or less stopped doing side jobs entirely except in exceptional cases.

          The crowning moment for that was when I was asked if I could pirate work's copy of Office for someone.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Seems ok

            If it was a friend you'd have installed LibreOffice. You know how it goes: "friends don't let friends..."

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Seems ok

          My tiers are:

          1. Close family (parents, sibling(s), kids, etc.) or very close friends - free. Unless it's a HUGE job, something I'm going to spend hours working on, in which case some small compensation would be expected. (For my parents, still free. They've certainly put in enough time on me!)

          2. More distant relatives or friends/acquaintances - questions are free, but if I have to physically touch your machine, buy me a meal. Exception was when I did a couple virus removals - that's a huge job, would need the machine at my house, would spend hours on it, so cash.

          3. Not a relative or acquaintance - sorry, do I know you? No? Hmm...

          I've gotten several meals out of this. Mostly a co-worker taking me to lunch (personal computer. not work!), but did have one give me a $50 gift certificate to a nice restaurant.

      8. Rol

        Re: Seems ok

        You're absolutely right. He should have done it as a favour, and then noted he was a bit short of cash at the moment and could you lend me £100 to see me through till payday.

        1. waldo kitty

          Re: Seems ok

          You're absolutely right. He should have done it as a favour, and then noted he was a bit short of cash at the moment

          this might have been fine, but...

          and could you lend me £100 to see me through till payday.

          this, on the other hand, indicates he would pay the £100 back on or about payday... terms like "lend" and "borrow" mean "pay back" which, in this case, would mean he did the task for free... now, if you had said "and could you let me have £100 to see me through till payday." i would agree with you... terminology is important... very important...

      9. Ignazio

        Re: Seems ok

        "The bereaved relative of a friend" who was going to spend a grand to recover that data and who was overjoyed for a 20x reduction in price tag and THEN wanted to haggle after the fact. Consider calling a plumber or a locksmith costs more than that *just to get them to drive to your place*.

        Please, less clutching of pearls.

      10. Rattus

        Re: Seems ok

        £50 offered to do a job that the data recovery people had quoted £1000 to do is somehow NOT charitable?

        offering to do a job knowing that a data recovery company had suggested it would be a * LOT * more would suggest that he was expecting it to be a PITA, and 15 min later turned out to not to be the case.

        The mistake here was not taking the machine away and doing the work where you couldn't be observed

        had he then come back with the requested data 2 days later everyone would have been been very happy indeed....

    3. Trollslayer

      Re: Seems ok

      Cliff had to buy a USB->SATA adapter, the money would cover that and a pint.

      1. NightFox

        Re: Seems ok

        Agree that charging at cost might have been reasonable - personally in this case for the sake of £6 I'd have been inclined to think 'well, at least I've now got a USB->SATA adapter that will probably come in useful someday'. And maybe just hoped that friend would have done the decent thing and bought me a pint next time we were out together.

        1. Ian Entwistle

          Re: Seems ok

          I'm with you... the amount of people i help on the basis that some day I might need their help , its better to have one or two favours already in the bank. plus if it wasn't for people giving time willingly would i have a nice shiny Linux OS to use ? There is more in life than money..

      2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: Seems ok

        To be fair, if this is in the days before bitlocker, those weren't as cheap as they are now.

        You have to also factor in travel costs, and time spent digging the adapter out of the box of various knick-knacks that are kept in storage.

        Probably should have charged him 1/4 of the day rate.

        1. albegadeep

          Re: Seems ok

          "Probably should have charged him 1/4 of the day rate."

          Indeed. 15 minutes of work, yes, but also travel to and from, the use of the USB adapter (not something most people would have), plus the expertise of knowing that it was even possible to simply copy files off the drive, much less knowing how to do it. Charging $50 knowing that they saved WAY more is quite fair.

    4. Christoph

      Re: Seems ok

      The council of Hamelin Town found out that was a bad idea many years ago.

      1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        Re: Seems ok

        I was waiting for that to come up.

    5. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

      Re: Seems ok

      If Cliff was very confident the job would be quick & easy, if I were in his shoes, I'd say it's £50 ($65) for the visit to assess the situation & price the job. When I did in fact see the machine and knew it would take only 15 minutes, I'd tell him "no charge" for that part. The guy then would have thought he got the job for "free" and he simply paid me £50 ($65) travel time.

    6. ShadowSystems

      Re: Seems ok

      There's an easy way to make such retroactive-hagglers STFU & pay the damn bill.

      "Pay me what you agreed on before I started or I put it back the way I found it & never work with you again."

      Either that or an application of the ShockyStick(TM) to zap them out cold, loot the body, & leave them naked on a bus bench somewhere.


      Sorry, I'll go get my Dried Frog Pills...

      1. Hazmoid

        Re: Seems ok

        Someone has been reading too much BOFH ;)

        1. waldo kitty

          Re: Seems ok

          Someone has been reading too much BOFH ;)

          there's no such thing as "too much BOFH"... ever O:)

    7. Kimo

      Re: Seems ok

      It took 15 minutes ON SITE. To which he travelled. that also took time. He quoted what it was worth to show up at their office and do the data recovery. It's not unusual to have either a minimum rate or a service call fee to cover the cost and time of travel.

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: Seems ok

        Also, before he turned up, he didn't know what state the laptop was in, and, for instance, whether he'd have to wait 6 hours for a low-level disk recovery to complete.

    8. raquelband

      Re: Seems ok

      the fee rate must be enough to the job, the client decision if he or she gives bunos for appreciating the job we done

    9. FuzzyTheBear

      Re: Seems ok

      Enters the real world. Time to go there , tools , equipment , transport to and back .. i mean those things ain't free. The guy had a good deal and he should never have even remotely criticised the agreed price.

  2. Dave K

    You're not just paying for the time spent on-site however. There's the travel to/from the site, the cost of the fuel, the time spent on the original phone call. Depending how far he had to drive, suddenly this balloons Cliff's total time up to an hour or two.

    Bear all this in mind and £50 sounds quite reasonable to me.

    1. jake Silver badge

      As an IT consultant, I implemented a four hour minimum for on-site visits in (roughly) 1990, a couple years after I went solo. Double on weekends/holidays. A few clients balked at the new rate ... I simply told 'em "Don't call me unless you actually need me". Or, as I tell prospective new clients "It's my job to ensure we see as little of each other as possible".

      A new issue arose. Convincing 'em to pay 4 hours for a one minute visit. The old TV repairman's maxim applied, "I'm not charging you for thumping your telly with a screwdriver. I'm charging you for knowing where and how hard to thump your telly, and for showing up to do it". The explanation seems to have worked ... although about four years ago a child CEO wondered why I'd need to thump a telly with a screwdriver.

      1. MOH

        Because sometimes there isn't a CEO around to thump?

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          A CEO with a screwdriver should definitely be thumped before they do any damage

        2. ShadowSystems

          At MOH, re: manager thumping.

          Depending on how you hold the screwdriver, it's the difference between knocking them unconscious & needing a roll of carpet...

          Or, ah, ummmm, or so I've been told.

          (Shifty eyed nervous looks in every direction.)

          Gotta go, I need to go floss the cat!

          *Runs away*

  3. diver_dave

    As an ex

    Telephony guy turned electrician I get this alot.

    1) well YouTube said..

    2) but all you did was reset the RCD after unplugging the kettle. (I did ask you to do this on the phone before coming out)

    3) Mr I know 'bout lectrics it must be something other than plugging the multiple 4 way blocks into themselves. (Regular Christmas lights problem)

    4) Why £60 to connect my cooker? It's only 5 minutes work and Dave down the pub will do it for £20 [1]

    The joys. Aaargghhhhh

    Pint day all....


    PS:. First! (Nearly)

    [1] yeah but is he going to continuity, IR and Zs test it?

    1. b0llchit Silver badge

      Re: As an ex

      ...Dave down the pub will do it for £20

      Well then, why didn't you contact Dave instead? If he can do it, why call me? But you called me and now you have to pay me. Next time you may call Dave instead of complaining to me.

      1. tip pc Silver badge

        Re: As an ex

        Dave does it for £20 but charges £50 extra for the moaning.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: As an ex

          Then tell him not to moan - didn't ask for extras.

      2. GlenP Silver badge

        Re: As an ex

        Had that far too often in a variety of situations.

        Then, of course, when they do get Dave to do the job, and it fails, they expect you to come and fix it.

        Many years ago, at the dawn of the PC era, I worked for a small software house that also supplied computers (mainly Apricot - it was a long time ago). We had a customer ask for a quote for a new PC for home, which we provided. Next thing, "Oh, I've bought this PC from Dixons, will you come and set it up?" Like many small dealers at that time we couldn't buy the kit wholesale for what Dixons, et al, were selling it for, and customers weren't prepared to pay a premium for personal service.

        1. The H-J Man

          Re: As an ex

          My little independant computer shop used to have a board outside thst said "queue here for free support for PCs brought at Dixons/Currys/Calculus". Whats frightening was the amouint of people who did. Whats even more frightening was the fact they thought they offered such a service.

          I was in the shop once when someone had brought back a faulty PC they had brought in Box Shifter PLC and expected them to replace it FOC because Box Shifter PLC didnt want to know and the abuse given when he was told to take it back to them. I remember saying "Well thats what you get when you go there"

      3. Rol

        Re: As an ex

        Well. Next time call Dave, and after he's destroyed it and finally admitted he doesn't know shit about electrics beyond changing a lightbulb, call me, but I warn you, it will be my usual fee plus the extra to fix what Dave fucked up.

        1. diver_dave

          Re: As an ex

          I actually draw a line here.

          As far as I'm concerned it's an SEP.

          I had one where I quoted jus over 4k to replace 136 lighting panels in a small supermarket. Very narrow time window.6pm Sunday to 6am Wednesday.

          Asked if I could price match £600. I declined.

          Called 10 days later as nothing switching correctly. Seriously, it's panel down, 3 wires, panel up.

          Quoted original price as I was pissed by their nerve. Client declined....


    2. Plest Silver badge

      Re: As an ex

      Sure let Dave do it for £20 but....

      You see I'm qualified and when something goes wrong you can call your insurance company and seeing a certified electrician did the fitting will pay £10,000 to replace your burned out kitchen or claim it from the sparky's insurance.

      However you really want to be the person who says to the insurance company, "Yeah I want to claim £10,000 repairs to my burned out kitchen after some mate of a mate called Dave fitted a socket for £20 as a favour.". I can almost hear the howls of laughter you'd hear down the phone from here!

    3. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

      Re: As an ex

      But Dave couldn't do it, why else you would have called me?

      1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        Re: As an ex

        Dave's not here, man.

        1. Sherrie Ludwig

          Re: As an ex

          Dave's not here, man.

          Wow, somebody else who remembers Firesign Theatre. Can't upvote twice, so here:

    4. Martin-73 Silver badge

      Re: As an ex

      Another fellow ex telecomms now electrician, 'all you did was'... and 'yes but i told you to do it on the phone' is so bloody familiar.

      And if they balk at the price, tell em how much the MFT for the Zs/Continuity/IR testing cost...

  4. David Robinson 1

    The Old Engineer and the Hammer

    The Graybeard engineer retired and a few weeks later the Big Machine broke down, which was essential to the company’s revenue. The Manager couldn’t get the machine to work again so the company called in Graybeard as an independent consultant.

    Graybeard agrees. He walks into the factory, takes a look at the Big Machine, grabs a sledge hammer, and whacks the machine once whereupon the machine starts right up. Graybeard leaves and the company is making money again.

    The next day Manager receives a bill from Graybeard for $5,000. Manager is furious at the price and refuses to pay. Graybeard assures him that it’s a fair price. Manager retorts that if it’s a fair price Graybeard won’t mind itemizing the bill. Graybeard agrees that this is a fair request and complies.

    The new, itemized bill reads….

    Hammer: $5

    Knowing where to hit the machine with hammer: $4995

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: The Old Engineer and the Hammer

      I heard it thus:

      Giving telly a thump, 6d ... Knowing where to thump it, 19/6 ... knowing how hard, "That'll be a guinea, guv."

      The rest is for the service call.

      I'm a bloody Yank ... and that was Grandad's joke, told in a Yorkshire accent!

      1. Rameses Niblick the Third Kerplunk Kerplunk Whoops Where's My Thribble?

        Re: The Old Engineer and the Hammer

        I always heard it from the point of view of a car body repair shop guy fixing a dent with one tap, but the point is still the same

        1. David Robinson 1

          Re: The Old Engineer and the Hammer

          Just don't get Ted Crilly to tap out the dent.

          1. nintendoeats Silver badge

            Re: The Old Engineer and the Hammer

            "Oh, I'll just give it another little tap to get it back the other way. Oh that's too far, I'll give it another tap again, it'll definitely be right this time."

            Downvote me all ye who have not done something like this.

            1. Rol

              Re: The Old Engineer and the Hammer

              Have a cup of tea on me...go will. you will, you will.

          2. Fr. Ted Crilly Silver badge

            Re: The Old Engineer and the Hammer

            That'l be £250 before I start squire...

            1. David Robinson 1

              Re: The Old Engineer and the Hammer

              And would that money just be resting in your bank account?

              1. Ochib

                Re: The Old Engineer and the Hammer

                that would be an ecumenical matter

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. Potty Professor

          Re: The Old Engineer and the Hammer

          That's the whole point, the extra shilling was for knowing how hard.

        2. jake Silver badge

          Re: The Old Engineer and the Hammer

          I am fully aware of that.

          Do you always make a point of explaining jokes?

          Some of us are old enough to have received pay packets containing old money ...

          Except we just called it "money" back then ...

      3. Yes Me Silver badge

        Re: The Old Engineer and the Hammer

        My understanding was that the method was to let the telly drop a quarter inch (yes, this was valves and before metrication); if that didn't fix it, try a half inch, etc. until at about 6 inches you'd say "Sorry, madam, it's too old to be mended. I can get you a good price for part-exchange, though."

        1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

          Re: The Old Engineer and the Hammer

          I fixed a hard drive that way, long enough to recover close to all the data.

          After all the recovery work I'd attempted didn't work, I asked the client: there's one more thing I can try, but if it doesn't work, it will be completely dead. Do you want me to try? He said yes, I duely lifted the shoe-box-sized hard drive a couple of inches off the desk and dropped it. It stuttered into life, I mounted the drive, and sucked all the data off, with from memory only a dozen damaged sectors.

          1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

            Re: The Old Engineer and the Hammer

            I used a hammer to knock one corner to make the whole drive spin a bit. Alternatively rotate the drive and let the right corner knock the table. Spinning it exactly that way the platters should spin. The motors usually liked it.

    2. Contrex

      Re: The Old Engineer and the Hammer

      I'm a graybeard/greybeard, but I hadn't hit puberty when I first heard that.

      1. TomPhan

        Re: The Old Engineer and the Hammer

        But did you know where to hit puberty and how hard to hit it?

    3. KBeee

      Re: The Old Engineer and the Hammer

      I seem to remember a story here in El Reg some years ago, concerning the Post Office and the big old camera they used to photograph the sculpture of the Queens head for their postage stamps.

      The guy that usually took the pictures had retired, and they couldn't get the camera to focus properly no matter what they tried.

      They called the retired bloke back, and he gave it a thump in the right place and all was well.

    4. ProfessorLarry

      Re: The Old Engineer and the Hammer

      How time morphs myths. I first heard a version of this from my father in the 1950s. His was a story about Steinmetz and a huge AC generator with a disturbing wobble. After timing the wobble and working away on a circular slide rule, Steinmetz requested a ladder and a piece of chalk. He climbed the ladder, made an X, and told the client to remove 3 turns of the field coil at that point. Itemized bill submitted after protest: making chalk mark, $1; knowing where to make mark, $999. Nice to see the legacy continues.

      1. Mark #255

        Re: The Old Engineer and the Hammer

        Earlier this week, I read this Smithsonian Magazine article about Steinmetz, which includes the same story (with slightly different numbers).

        Definitely worth a read with a relaxing post-work beverage

  5. jake Silver badge

    Is $261 per hour that much in the IT world?

    No. I wouldn't even get out of bed for that little.

    1. My-Handle

      Re: Is $261 per hour that much in the IT world?

      Good for you, I guess?

      For an early-20s IT tech, this level of fix would both be within their capabilities and would likely be quite a windfall. Early on in my career, I've done site visits and fixes for £20. Needs must, I suppose.

    2. Daedalus

      Re: Is $261 per hour that much in the IT world?

      Well, Digital Equipment used to charge astronomical hourly rates, depending on how you looked at the job.

      Technician pulls jumper to double memory on an installed PDP-11 board: $500. Figure travel time, getting past security (if there was any) and it's....still a lot per hour.

      Technician installs and configures RS-232 card: Similar charge, but in the case I saw the tech was an absolute plonker, sat reading the manual for ages, and was eventually evicted from the premises, invoice unpaid. Technically zero dollars per hour, could have been a lot more if he'd known what he was doing.

      VAX sysgen: about $5K, but given that a friend knew how to do it in a couple of hours, you do the maths.

    3. cageordie

      Re: Is $261 per hour that much in the IT world?

      I'm with you. I paid a plumber more than that and was glad to have his expertise. People who want to work for free are probably not in business. The plumber's call-out fee was $100. Given travel time that seems reasonable.

  6. chivo243 Silver badge

    50 for 40

    I once got the nice end of the stick... I quoted €40 for the job, they were so happy to have "My Pictures" folder back(I didn't ask what was in it!), they paid me €50 instead, also helped that I didn't have a tenner for change!

    I did have my share of skinflints when doing side jobs. Most of them I never helped again, a few got my $pecial rate after that!!

    1. Dabooka

      Re: 50 for 40

      I hear you.

      I bet 95% of users on these boards have been there plenty of times to. Doing favours which somehow turn into my responsibility for ever, supplying free bit of salvaged hardware for minor upgrades etc

      I recall telling the father in law of a friend of mine to FRO after the work I put in was met with a complaint, as I canceled a follow up visit because I'd been called in to work.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 50 for 40

      my old man was a tradesmen, a stone mason. He applied the tradesmans test which was basically if a customer you did some work for previously was such a w@nker that even if you, your partner and your kids were starving and bailiffs were at the door and you had no work lined up for the next 6 months, you still would tell the w@nker customer that you were busy! I had a few users like this in a lab I worked for for 20 years, after dealing with them I'd think of dads tradesmans test and wonder if they could ever get a tradesman to do any work at their homes!

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: 50 for 40

        wonder if they could ever get a tradesman to do any work at their homes

        Hopefully the only ones they could get were crooks who did half a job and tried to charge them twice.

        We can but wish.

  7. Simon Robinson

    In a previous employment, back in 2003, engineer call-outs were charged at £75 an hour with a minimum half-hour charge. One client called us out so much, for minor things, their minimum was bumped up to a full hour - and they happily paid...

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I got someone in to do a couple of quick jobs, jobs that I could easily have done myself and they knew I could do them because several years earlier I was the one that taught them how to do it.

    Once the jobs were finished and paid for we were having a chat and he asked why I got him to do the work, after all I could have done it myself and saved a few hundred pounds, I had to explain to him that in the same time he was doing the jobs I was working on something else that gave me the money to pay him and a few hundred on top. If I had done the job myself it would have cost me money, having him do the job meant that we both took a profit for the time.

    1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      agree, but all very good if you have enough work in the pipeline.

      Otherwise you could have doth sequentially.

    2. MiguelC Silver badge

      It's a bit like the Cisco engineer who outsourced his own job to China

      The difference is this guy was paying for his work to be done by someone else while he chilled :)

    3. TimMaher Silver badge

      Economics 101

      It’s called “opportunity cost”.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Had one this week - turn it off and back on again

    Client phones up. Can't get online. I tell them to restart the router. She is literally too scared to pull out the plug "in case the phone breaks". 25mins of call trying to get her to do this, I give up. Tell her that she has to pay the full hour if I come out.

    So 30mins drive, to pull out a power cable on a router. £60 please.

    To be fair, I did sit and give her an hour sorting out other mess on the computer for her.

    Which reminds me of another one. Years back. Another 30mins drive, this time to turn off a PC that had got stuck during shut down. That guy was too embarrassed for me to stay longer than the five mins it took to power off the PC and pay me.

    Often 5mins of knowledge is worth the fee if it saves the client time. It is the odd side of experience. The number of calls I get that I can now fix in five mins due to the 40 years of experience that tells me "I know this, I don't it before". The client pays for a solution.

  10. M Cts

    The fee is broken down into: time spent: £20 ; years of experience such that I know how to do it: £30

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lost dog pictures

    Once, I was handed over a laptop HD, which contained a now deceased dog pictures that were dear to the owner.

    He apparently earnt a number of prizes ... HD was fubared.

    I attached it to my gaming system, booted windows but it flatly refused to read anything on it, there was some very worrying clicks, hinting at the head touching the surface or the head being a bit loose. Bad.

    Booted SteamOS instead, and managed to mount the drive. Took me a full afternoon to cp -r all readable data to an USB key, and acknowledge all kernel warnings.

    In the end, I probably recovered 25% of the pictures.

    I won a full 2 dozens of Duvel beer bottles ! Nice !

    1. Vincent Ballard

      Re: Lost dog pictures

      If there's a next time, mounting the drive isn't the best idea. Better to dd it and work solely on the copy. If the copy mounts, great; but the most reliable method of extracting photos is to scan it for JPEG headers, because usually the file will be on contiguous blocks.

      1. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

        Re: Lost dog pictures

        The bizarrely-misnamed program TESTDISK and its companion, PHOTOREC, are your friends here.

      2. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: Lost dog pictures

        This sounds like a job for ddrescue, often included by default in live-CD based linux distributions.

        It works basically like dd, but if it encounters any read errors it will go back and try and re-read just those blocks, which gives you the best possible chance of getting the data off before the harddrive dies.

    2. cookieMonster Silver badge

      Re: Lost dog pictures

      I’ve have a few run ins like that. A long time a ago a real greybeard told me to leave the Hard disk in a freezer for an hour or so before trying to mount it, ive tried it and sometimes it actually works.

      The reasoning, or so I’m told, is sometimes certain parts of the intervals expand with heat, the cold apparently contracts said parts just enough to give you time to access the disk.

      1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge

        Re: Lost dog pictures

        Not only have I done that, but also run a disk hanging out of the window in the middle of winter with a long IDE cable. Just so it stayed cool enough to not expand out of alignment.

        Damn I feel old just thinking about IDE cables.

        1. Rob Daglish

          Re: Lost dog pictures

          Ohhhh... another job I loved as a PFY - the ribbon cable making press - pretty much every machine I ever built had cables made to exactly the right length just so I could play around with the press...

          1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

            Re: Lost dog pictures

            Had a HDD, that had data & other stuff that couldn't easily be done by a replacement HDD with a fresh software build.

            Stick it in the freezer (Sealed bag) compartment of the office fridge, pulled it out & started a Ghost clone, applying freezer spray to the drive as it did so, made the mistake of stopping the spraying at 9x% & it failed.

            Repeat above & ensured the freezer spray was applied right up until "Image Complete" flashed up on the screen.

            A small crowd gathered & watched with bated breath as the computer took a few moments to recover itself as the new HDD & OS worked out their various differences & custody of its various bad blocks that had suddenly disappeared, then booted up to a login screen.

            Icon - A well deserved ice cold one.

        2. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

          You feel "old", huh?

          Do you recall ST-506/ST-412-interface hard drives, with TWO ribbon cables, one wide (34 wires, the command cable), and one narrow (20 pins, the data cable)?

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: You feel "old", huh?

            I have a copy of an invoice for an 18Meg drive that set my customer back $4,200 in July of 1980. It was a North Star HD-18, plugged into a parallel port on a North Star Horizon to supplement the overloaded two year old stock 5Meg drive. The system ran a proprietary, home-built inventory and invoicing system for a local indy auto parts store in Mountain View, California. A guy from North Star arrived with the unit to swap out firmware, update the OS, and make other changes so the machine would accept the second drive ... there was no charge for his services, including travel from Berkeley. It worked quite well for about a decade, when I upgraded them to a Coherent based system, which was followed by a Slackware system about 10 years later.

            In 1981, Apple debuted their first HDD, 5 megs for $3500.

            In 1986 my Sun server had a bottomless pit of a drive for user space. It was a 300 megabyte CDC Wren IV SCSI drive. It cost US$14,000 ... that's just the drive, mind. The computer cost around $65K. (The "user" was a database archiving network statistics, if anybody's wondering.)

            1. An_Old_Dog Silver badge
              Thumb Up

              MWC Coherent

              Ah, the Coherent manual was a thing of beauty.

              1. EVP

                Re: MWC Coherent

                CDC Wren IV manual is a thing of beauty too… and IBM 5162 Technical Reference, and many others from the halcyon days.

      2. dak

        Re: Lost dog pictures

        I had to do just that last week. It worked.

      3. Sam not the Viking Silver badge

        Re: Lost dog pictures

        I heard about this trick. I thought it was either an April Fool's joke or just a way for clever techies to laugh at lesser beings.

        Anyway, being in an intractable situation, with no-one looking, I tried it and it worked! I recovered all the data I should have backed up elsewhere.....

      4. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: Lost dog pictures

        You're just as likely to destroy the drive through condensation as you are to make it work. More likely to destroy it on modern drives.

        1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

          Re: Lost dog pictures

          Stick it in a ziplock freezer\sandwich bag with a couple of silica gel sachet.

        2. jwatkins

          Re: Lost dog pictures

          Aren't hard drives sealed - if so how could there be any moisture inside to condense?

          1. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

            Re: Lost dog pictures

            If that were true, why would it say "do not cover any drive holes" on them? Or do they not say that any more? (I got bored of looking that closely at hard drives a long time ago.)

            1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

              Re: Lost dog pictures

              Those helium drives don't have breather holes any more. Though the air-helium mix inside those is really dry air, else they would not allow that operating temperature range.

            2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: Lost dog pictures

              The hole doesn't open the inside to the outside quite like that. You don't want debris getting into the mechanism. Usually there will be at the very least a filter inside, more likely, especially on modern drives a rubber/latex membrane. It's primarily to allow for ambient pressure changes, not ventilation.

          2. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

            Re: Lost dog pictures

            Basic physics fail on your side: Cool down and it will condense. Example: you have 45% humidity at about 22°C, so any surface which is 7°C cold will condense. There is a reason why fridges have a water-hole somewhere to let the condensing water out of the cabinet somewhere in the back of the fridge to evaporate on the warmer outside temperatures. Check you fridge manual.

          3. waldo kitty

            Re: Lost dog pictures

            Aren't hard drives sealed

            no, they weren't... they had small ventilation holes to keep the air pressure equalized...

            if so how could there be any moisture inside to condense?

            moisture on the outside can also cause damage... especially when it forms across two or more non-insulated wire traces or through holes on the board...

            on a similar note, i was called out to a rock quarry back in the '00s to fix a system that was "acting weird"... getting to the site was a bit of a wonk because the dirt roads were eaten away by all the large heavy trucks and several weeks of rain... i ended up parking my car at the entrance and riding in in one of the dump trucks because the road in was so bad... a few of those holes would have swallowed my car quite easily...

            upon opening the system to take a look at the insides, we were greeted with a layer of silica dust about .25 inches thick (about 6mm) completely blanketing the motherboard and all the surfaces inside the machine... dry silica dust is generally not much of a problem other than when it builds up enough to slow or stop the fans... moist silica dust, on the other hand... well... electronics and moisture don't mix too well... especially not when the electronics are old original IBM PCAT systems that are not cleaned on a regular schedule... they did at least have a "keyboard condom" in place because they had had to replace the keyboard several times from all the dust...

            yeah, they purchased a new(er) system and spent i don't know how much on fitting a decent air filtration system along with scheduling regular cleaning and removal of the captured dust...

      5. An_Old_Dog Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Cool Running

        On the flip side of that, I worked at a PC shop in the 1980s. ST-225s, ST-238s, and ST-251s. We stored new parts in the back warehouse, which was unheated. Our standard PC build process included running the drives for 45 minutes on the build bench, to bring them up to their usual operating temperatures before we low-level-formatted them, entered the defect list, and scanned them for additional bad sectors.

        1. cageordie

          Re: Cool Running

          I'd forgotten about building the defect list. And low level formatting drives over a period of hours. Hours of overtime installing an Emulex QD34 and a couple of Fujitsu M2333s. Two 270MB drives and the controller cost about 10,000 quid.

        2. Andy A

          Re: Cool Running

          In the days of the ACT Sirius 1 / Victor 9000, we had a large batch of machines with lots of disk errors.

          Turned out that the drives had been low-level formatted in Sunny California, and in the UK winter the cylinders on the platters no longer lined up with the heads which had recorded them.

        3. imanidiot Silver badge

          Re: Cool Running

          On the drives of "back in those days" that trick probably worked. Modern drives (Post 2000-ish) it's hit or miss. The trick worked on drives in the past because back then the bearings did wear out and increased tolerances together with less than stellar head positioning would lead to read/write failures. Cooling things down very slightly improved bearing tolerances and head positioning allowing to get some data off the drives.

          Modern drives are 99.99% more likely to have crashed on a headcrash or an electronics problem. Neither of those cases is helped by cooling the drive down. In the very rare case it IS an early death bearing the bearing is very probably so shot it's not going to be helped by cooling it down and even if it IS then the head tracking now has to be so precise a less than perfect bearing will make it throw a wobbly anyway.

          1. waldo kitty

            Re: Cool Running

            The trick worked on drives in the past because back then the bearings did wear out and increased tolerances together with less than stellar head positioning would lead to read/write failures.

            not only that but there was also the protective coating on the platters that, in some cases, would soften from the heat of operation... when the drives spun down the heads would settle into the now soft coating... when the drive cooled off, those head were effectively cemented to the platters...

            when the drive was powered back up, the heads would prevent the platters from spinning... this is where the quick spinning or light thumping would come in handy to pop the heads loose and let the drive platters spin properly... freezing the drive would, in many cases, allow the coating to shrink away from the heads so the platters weren't held captive when power was applied...

            yes, sometimes a head might get torn off the arm it was mounted to... i'm sitting here looking at a clock made from an old ST-125 that had this happen... luckily it was the last head in the count that came off... luckily? yeah, because i low leveled the drive and told it it had one less head... yeah, that reduced the available storage space and the data was lost but it worked well enough for the tasks it had to do... that drive ran for another 5 years or so before being replaced by a larger drive and one that didn't have the sticktion problem...

            since it was already damaged, i removed the cover to get at the insides... the bottom side of the bottom platter had a nice clean circle scrapped into it where the head had gouged out the material... i powered the drive and used a screwdriver to carefully scrap another circle for added decoration... then i removed the platter motor and replaced it with a clock work, figured out how to mount that one platter, and applied a ring of numbers along with some clock hands... the cover was replaced with a custom hand-cut plexiglass cover and boom! one hard drive clock was born :)


    3. Kubla Cant

      Re: Lost dog pictures

      I won a full 2 dozens of Duvel beer bottles

      I think I'd prefer to get the beer.

    4. TimMaher Silver badge

      Re: Duvel


  12. DS999 Silver badge

    He wasn't paying for the time

    He was paying for the knowledge. Other times you might be paying for the presence of equipment, like if the fiber line to your house gets broken you might be able to fix it yourself if you had a splicer, but you'll pay someone $80 to come by for five minutes to do it because it isn't worth buying a splicer that you'd probably never use again.

    The only time you are paying for time is if there is no special knowledge required and no special equipment. Then whether it is worth it to you comes down to how much you're willing to pay to NOT do the task, i.e. paying someone to clean your gutters or paint your garage.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: He wasn't paying for the time

      Cleaning gutters may well be a low-skill task (how to safely use a ladder, etc), but painting, especially exterior, is often a professionals-only task. How to use a sprayer, having scaffolding or similar equipment on-hand, the trick of mixing some of the previous bucket of paint into the next one to make SURE they come out the same color, how to tape so that it seals properly without bleeding, etc. are things that might best be left to a professional.

      (Full disclosure - I built my own garage. Paid for the concrete work and installing/hooking up the breaker panel, but did everything else (including inside wiring and fixtures) myself. Vinyl siding is pretty easy. Still would hesitate to try to paint one myself.)

  13. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    The secretary had it right. The cost was a lot less than the alternative. What's more, when he agreed the price he did so because the result was worth at least what he was being asked.

  14. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

    The friend was overjoyed. And then queried the value. After all, £50 for 15 minutes of IT wizardry? That worked out at £200 ($261) per hour. A ridiculous sum of money, right?

    Well obviously its not as much as this data protection company was going charge (rip off) the client. That would have been £4000 per hour.

    I'm guessing the conversation went

    "Hi , Disk salvagers here?"

    "Could you get my precious files from my brothers laptop"

    "Yes we think so , is the disk damaged?"

    "no the machine just has a bios password"

    "ok , we should be able to do it for , ooh , er , lets say £1000 , just bring it in."

    <hangs up>

    "Hey boss , got another sucker on the hook - disk not even damaged or encrypted"

    1. nintendoeats Silver badge

      In fairness, for every job that really is that easy I'm sure that they get jobs where that are complications. If they are going to provide a price up front, the easy jobs are also paying some of the cost of the unexpectedly hard ones.

      1. PM from Hell

        It wasn't dropped honest

        How many times have you been called out to a laptop which suddenly stopped working to find obvious;y new cracks or grazes on the case and been told no its not been dropped!

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: It wasn't dropped honest

          Over the last couple of years of WFH? Every day! And worse! "No, I'm pretty sure nothing was spilled on it, look how shiny and clean the outside is" etc etc etc.

    2. Disk0

      1000 includes the price of an attorney to brush you off with the fine print when you start complaining.

  15. ComputerSays_noAbsolutelyNo Silver badge

    Never ...

    ... let people know how long you actually need for the job.

    This only destroys the magic.

    1. WonkoTheSane

      Re: Never ...


      Youtube link

    2. Old Used Programmer

      Re: Never ...

      See "Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman".

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Never ...

      I was sent to an overseas subsidiary to do mainframe support when someone was incapacitated in a car crash. No problem - my usual bread & butter of fixing "impossible" problems.

      The local staff were not very happy with me. It transpired that what I was doing was beyond their abilities - and I was making it look easy. I discovered that my equally capable predecessor had spent a day fixing a problem - then four days relaxing on the beach.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I kind of had the opposite. I was visiting a friend, and he mentioned that his landlady had a problem with her computer and asked if I could I help. Her CDROM wasn't working. So I said 'sure' - I am an IT bod and I do this stuff all the time.

    So his landlady showed me the computer. She'd already paid some IT shop to look and got nowhere. I pulled the case off only to see the damned thing wasn't even plugged in! I plugged it in, reassembled the case and tested the drive out with no problems. His landlady asked me how much I charged and I said 'nothing - you were screwed over by the IT shop and I just plugged in a cable". She insisted, and I got the easiest £50 ever for plugging in a cable. I never even mentioned a price - that was what she gave me.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      In my younger years doing work on the side, if I fixed something that quickly I wouldn't charge - just say that the first 5 minutes are free.... (Although it would be a matter of travel time would be a factor)

  17. old_IT_guy

    Wit endures

    Charles Proteus Steinmetz said much the same to Henry Ford to explain his $10000 invoice after he'd fixed a vexing problem in a generator that kept failing at one of Ford's new plants

    Wit endures :)

  18. Roger Kynaston

    two quite different scenarios

    My Father was a photographer and loathed doing weddings. One of the things he always did when doing a wedding was to stamp proof all over the initial set of prints (25 years ago CMOS was a glint in someone's eye or only on Voyager). They always created about this and said that cousin 'Dave' would do it for £50.

    I am known as the street geek on our road and regularly get asked questions about spinning up Wordpress sites even though I am a systems admin and not good at design. I haven't the heart to charge them an hour's consultancy to say I don't know anything about that but can spin up an AWS instance for them but they will have to design and maintain the site.

  19. Electronics'R'Us

    Cassette tapes

    Remember those?

    The cheap tapes (which was all of them that were purchased pre-recorded) would leave some of their gunk on the tape deck tensioning rollers which then chewed up tapes.

    I used to fix them (this was in the 70s and 80s); the interesting thing was that unless I took the unit away and held onto it for a day the various clients (friends of acquaintances) would never believe I had actually done anything.

    The actual fix was simple once I disentangled the chewed up tape (which I could often fix even if it had snapped as I had a tape splicer although the music tempo might not be right due to stretching).

    Some rubbing alcohol on a wipe to clean the rollers was all that was required and took perhaps 5 minutes but as noted above, I kept the item for a day before giving it back (I would clean up the outside of the thing as well).

    I made quite a bit of beer money doing that.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Cassette tapes

      I remember cleaning video heads that were bad enough that the cleaning tapes wouldn't touch by first wiping them with isopropyl alcohol wiping that off and then playing a tape and feeding a thin sliver of brown envelope between the head and the tape, the brown paper was just abrasive enough to do the final clean, if it didn;t clear it after several passes you just accepted that the head really was knackered and not just dirty.

      1. Martin-73 Silver badge

        Re: Cassette tapes

        Ah yes, Video heads. Cheap cleaning tapes (with loops of fibre sticking out) would often destroy them, the fibres would get caught in the head, which was a) tiny, and b) spinning at 3000 or 3600 RPM with a lot of inertia... More than one friend got the sad news that there was nothing I could do (I could do basic PSU diagnostics etc, plus cleaning and a little alignment if someone'd been fiddling, but a broken head was off to the repair shop with you)

    2. Plest Silver badge

      Re: Cassette tapes

      Someone once taught me that trick when I was young kid at school when we all used tapes to load games on 8bit micros, once a tape machine started snagging tapes, clean the rollers ASAP.

      Well I used to make £2 a pop going round people's houses and "fixing their computers" simply with my magic solution and tools, which was just a plain cleaning alchol and my mum's cotton buds!

    3. Timbo

      Re: Cassette tapes

      I used to work in the hifi retail trade and we had many tape decks come into the shop, (brought in by indignant customers claiming the machines were "faulty" and demanding refunds or new machines) as they sounded "muffled" (and clearly the owners had not RTFM).

      In those days (late 70s/early 80s) you could buy bottles of isopropyl alcohol from most UK High Street chemists, and I'd get a (maybe) 500ml bottle for about 50p and it would last ages.

      Add some cotton buds and the knowledge of knowing where (FYI: tape heads/pinch roller/capstan) and how much to apply (FYI: sparingly) and many faulty tape decks were sorted in a few the now brown gungy cotton buds were shown to the punters as proof of what happens when you don't keep the deck in tip-top shape.

      PS A good alternative, if you couldn't get hold of isopropyl alcohol was:....neat vodka, which does just as good a job and unlike certain other spirits, it leaves no residue.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Cassette tapes

      Cheap tape always had that problem.

      Many, many years ago (back in the days of reel-to-reel mag tapes for computers), one of the routine tasks (every 8 hours, end of the shift), we'd have to clean the heads and vacuum chambers of any tape oxide residue. If you didn't, you'd end up with tape failures and vacuum collapses.

      Some tape manufacturers were worse than others for quality. Racal Decca tapes used to be particularly troublesome. We spent quite some time copying data off of them onto better quality tapes at one point in time because of the poor quality. Had fun throwing the old Decca tapes from the 3rd floor into a large skip below.

      1. Martin-73 Silver badge

        Re: Cassette tapes

        Ahhh and now you could make a fortune on ebay with them!

  20. Spanners Silver badge

    Remember the old story?

    "$1 for hitting it with a hammer and $999 for knowing where to hit it."

    We are not generally just paid for actual hands-on time. We are paid to know stuff. The younger ones in this line will have student loans to pay!

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I actually had to do the very same thing last year. My daughter is doing her 11+ her tutor although very good is a total technospaz Anyway his laptop died and EVERYTHING is on it. He went to some random computer bloke who ripped him off for a few quid and said he couldn't get the data off the hdd and just left it in bits. Anyway I offered to help and as, like in this tale, it was an oldish laptop and did'nt have bitlocker I just stuck the disk in a caddy got the data then advised the tutor on what new laptop to buy and to then make sure his work is backed up and maybe to use onedrive. Anyway I didn't want paying as I needed him to be able to continue tutoring my daughter! But he didn't charge us for the rest of the terms lessons so that was worth a few quid! but in effect I basically saved his business or at lteast saved him a BIG headache!

    But this is a very common situation and is the reason I tend not to do this type of work, or help out "friends" when you spend hours on a job most of it looking at a spinning circle as the box is so old or full of sh1t it takes hours to do anything, then you're "paid" via a 4 pack of cheap beer or a £4 bottle of wine!

    1. GlenP Silver badge

      you're "paid" via a 4 pack of cheap beer or a £4 bottle of wine

      I've obviously been fortunate in my friends as I've been known to get 4 bottles of really nice beer just for unlocking a Nokia mobile (a three minute job if you knew where to go on the carrier's website for the PUK code).

      A, sadly now late, friend used to pay me an annual retainer for helping with his IT, a decent bottle of single malt! He was also good enough to know the difference between needing a quick 10 minute piece of advice and major work - in the latter case he'd happily pay.

    2. Contrex

      'Spaz' is not a very nice word.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        So why did you write it?

  22. Sequin

    A government department I worked for had bought a database system, written in Access, that had worked fine for 18 months, but had stopped accepting new records. The company they bought it off wanted a couple of grand to investigate and fix the problem. I asked the person who ran the system if by any chance it had stopped functioning after they had added 32767 records. He was gobsmacked to see that I was spot on! I changed the definintion of the primary key column from integer to large integer and bingo - working again for £0

    1. gnasher729 Silver badge

      I have a very very old one. I was still at school, about 15 , and we had this one teacher who was really into computers. That is microprocessors. That is naked microprocessors, a bit before the Apple II computer. And he did computer courses where among other things he explained binary numbers.

      One day one of the guys doing the course comes in and says "You saved my company thousands". It turns out he worked in a sawmill. And they had this machine that could cut would into planks exactly for example 275 centimetre long. And when they wanted 300 centimetre planks, they had to call someone from the company who charged lots of money to make some magic changes to some switches and it would do 300 centimetre planks.

      This young man then noticed that there was a set of ten switches. And the switches were set to the board length, in binary. So they tried it, changed one particular switch and the length changed by 64 centimetres. Changed it back and everything fine. From that day on they didn't call the manufacturer anymore and could cut any length of planks within two minutes.

  23. Blanch

    I was the IT Manager of a Motorsport company and I needed to ask an accountant for some advice, he was our work accountant, he said come back out of hours when he can charge me. I left.

    A few weeks later he needed some help with his personal laptop as it had a major fault. I told him that it was a big job that would take around 4 hours to fix...

    The rate I said was £200 per hour, take it or leave it! Minimum four hours. Payable up front. He absolutely knew I would be able to fix it in way less time than this.

    All he said was "touché" and why my rate £200 per hour.

    I said it was my special rate, normally I charge a £50 flat fee but a***holes like you who can not give advice for free get my special rate!

    He offered to give me the advice I had asked for but I told him the offer had passed!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Double standards

      Let me see if I understood this. You decided the beancounter was an arsehole because he wouldn't give you advice for free. Yet you charge others for your time and expertise. Is that right? Maybe the accountant had decided you were the arsehole for expecting payment for an earlier IT problem?

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

        Re: Double standards

        All he said was "touché".

        1. EVP

          Re: Double standards

          A classy answer, in a way.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      On the other hand, giving out financial advice might have legal and professional implications involving regulators.

  24. Dave.C

    Same concept, different field

    Family friend is/was a locksmith. Gets a call out over a weekend, called away from a family gathering to some muppet who had locked his keys in his car. Gets to scene (a local beuty spot away from anything remotely residential), spends longer getting tools out and put away that actually opening the car. Hands over standard callout bill. Guy objects to cost vs time taken. Keys deposited back in car, car locked and locksmith left the scene. As above, you are not paying for the time taken, but the interruption to someone's time, the travel, but more importantly the tools and acquired knowhow.

    1. elaar

      Re: Same concept, different field

      I agree with this apart from the muppet part. I had my keys locked in the boot 250miles away from home, and it turns out the boot automatically locked (without my request) because of the order in which my daughter shut the back doors.... Modern technology is shite.

      1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

        Re: Same concept, different field

        That comes from the American "GTA is real" problem. You are in the car, someone opens the door, drags you out and steals your car. Just normal in the US. That is why they have several auto-locking mechanisms, like when your start to drive. Irritating for someone from central Europe (+ Brit).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Same concept, different field

          "Just normal in the US."

          As a leftpondian, I can tell you that this is absolutely not normal in the US. I've lived here my whole life, and never known someone who was dragged out of their car by a car thief.

      2. Baroda

        Re: Same concept, different field

        A useful feature on the Subaru, I believe for around 20 years now, is the ability to open the car using coded movements of the door handle/flap. I routinely lock the expensive-to-replace keys hidden inside before heading off for a sea swim. Afterwards, lift the door handle/flap ‘x’ times, pausing for the system to beep after each series to acknowledge ‘ok - end of was the number ‘x’’, and after the last number in the code there’s a clunk as the car unlocks.

      3. jake Silver badge

        Re: Same concept, different field

        That's why my keys go into my pocket as soon as they have done their job.

        1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

          Re: Same concept, different field

          I deliver leaflets, and remain gobsmacked at how many houses I deliver to and find the door keys sitting there in the lock.

        2. imanidiot Silver badge

          Re: Same concept, different field

          Usually they do that for me too. Still stupidly managed to lock my car keys in my car once. Came out of the shops, opened the car with the key in hand and still carrying stuff. Leaned into the car to put stuff down on passenger seat but did not notice the key came out of my hand and pressed the lock button. The unexpected noise made me turn around and look up, then go "huh, whatever" and closed the passenger door to walk around the car and get in. Only to get that "well *expletives deleted*" feeling half a second later.

      4. arachnoid2

        Re: Same concept, different field

        It can happen with BMW bikes if the owner accidentally places the electronic keys in the tail box i.e. in a jacket and auto locks the bike. The trick is to try and bounce the keys forward enough so the sensor in the handle bars picks up the presence of the keys and lets them use the unlock button.

  25. T. F. M. Reader

    What's "a bomb of money"?

    The 1000 quid quoted by another job applicant?

    The amount mentioned in the dead person's will kept on that hard drive?

    The creds for a valuable BTC wallet?

    The story rings incomplete...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What's "a bomb of money"?

      Please look up the term "beyond your ken". The world's larger than you know.

    2. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

      Re: What's "a bomb of money"?

      Not "will", "work".

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What's "a bomb of money"?

        While I downvoted the original comment, I believe "will" was in reference to "last will and testament", which could be worth a great deal...

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: What's "a bomb of money"?

      Please live up to your handle.

  26. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    It never changes

    can remember pulling the files of an old HDD from a dead pc for work.

    Took the pc home ... worked my magic* , gave them a CD with the files on next morning.. then the boss tried to stiff me on the expensive price deal for the job.... pointed out I still had the HDD at home and inland revenue may be interested in the contents.....

    Thats when he learned you dont upset a BoFH in training......

    *Pulled HDD and plugged it into one of my linux boxes

  27. gnasher729 Silver badge

    Locked the car

    I don't know where I read this, but someone unlocked a car with the keys inside in a very short time, the customer refused to pay, so he threw the keys back in and locked the car again and drove off.

    1. imanidiot Silver badge

      Re: Locked the car

      The post by Dave.C, three posts up?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Locked the car

        To be fair I have that story before from another web site.

        Yes, el Reg is not the only web site I read!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Locked the car

      I once had to pay to have my car extracted from a ditch. (Don't drive in winter weather.) I was very understandably grumpy at being asked to pay double the going rate simply because it was a police officer who called the tow truck instead of me. (Lesson learned - have a towing company's phone number in the car.) When I asked "how do I pay" (inquiring about payment methods), the rather nasty driver thought I was saying I wouldn't pay, and "offered" to push it back in the ditch!

    3. YetAnotherLocksmith Silver badge

      Re: Locked the car

      I've never yet had to do that.

      My stock answer to "That was quick" is "Thanks, years of practise!"

      The grumpy people? I tell them they are welcome to stand outside for another half an hour if they feel that would help, but it is chargeable, and it is raining...

  28. Marty McFly Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Television repair

    Decades ago, back when TVs were actually repairable, I saw a tech perform a quick 5-minute repair on a Sony Trinitron. Turned the TV on, saw the symptom, pulled the back off, pointed to a part and stated that is what he was going to replace. Worked perfect and he then left for lunch - while on the customer's clock.

    He explained to me... If he followed Sony's documented testing & repair procedure it would have taken two hours. Just because he had earned the experience to know exactly what to do did not mean it translated in to cheap repairs for the customer.

    1. usbac Silver badge

      Re: Television repair

      TVs are still repairable, to a point. Most failures even on modern TVs are still simple component failures. Mostly it's cheap components to blame.

      Our 55" LCD TV recently started having audio problems. At first audio was breaking up a little, then it got really distorted, then failed altogether. It was a bit of a beast to get apart. Mostly just due to its size (it's not something you can take apart on a small workbench). I looked at the main PCB, and noticed a few bulged electrolytic capacitors. I decided since they were all cheap low-quality caps, I would change all of the electrolytic caps at the same time. 7$ worth of higher quality caps, and the TV works great now.

      The manufacturer saved all of about 3$ by using the crap capacitors, on a $1200 TV!

      1. R Soul Silver badge

        Re: Television repair

        "The manufacturer saved all of about 3$ by using the crap capacitors, on a $1200 TV!"

        Those crap capacitors were included so that when they failed, the manufacturer could sell another $1200+ TV. Ever heard of built-in obsolescence?

        1. Screepy

          Re: Television repair

          "The manufacturer saved all of about 3$ by using the crap capacitors, on a $1200 TV!"

          To add, $3 saved per TV when you're selling squillions of them means the CEO gets another yatch this year instead of next.

      2. Martin-73 Silver badge

        Re: Television repair

        Yep, our main living room tv is a kerbside rescued samsung. The fault was easy to diagnose, flashing power LED pulsing a code, main PSU was failing to start up from standby. Reason? A single SMD powersupply bootstrap resistor (charges the cap that runs the main SMPS from the HV rail, so the chip can startup and then the PSU powers itself)

      3. adam 40 Silver badge

        Re: Television repair

        I did a similar fix on a Panasonic hard disc recorder.

        It turned out that the very best electrolytics you can buy, best MTBF, etc, instead of the crap ones they had fitted, were made by Panasonic!

        3 quid's worth of Panasonic caps later and it was back up and running.

      4. sianag

        Re: Television repair

        There's a bit of that but I also think that's bad engineering, also in service of minor cost cutting. Good expensive electrolytic caps turn into average quality caps with time, and not a lot of time. It would help them along immensely to space them out so they aren't heated by something else and to double them up with ceramics to reduce their ripple current, and separate them with inductors as well which will never go bad and limit the offensive current spikes some more. I guess some corner cutting is understandable in a $300 TV but at higher price points the inadequacy is sometimes quite painful.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Television repair

      "If he followed Sony's documented testing & repair procedure it would have taken two hours."

      Same for brand name latops, and by extension, most/all brand name kit where you are supposed to carefully follow the official procedures. eg, one particular manufacture of laptops I deal with, the official way to replace a broken LCD panel is to strip half the laptop down, separate the screen from the base before removing the bezel to get the screen out. Anyone with a bit of experience soon finds they can do the job in 5-10 mins rather than nearly an hour once you figure out the "trick" to removing and putting the bezel back on properly while the screen is still attached to the base. There are hard to reach plastic tabs at the bottom in the gap between the base and screen which needs pressure applying "just right" to click them in with a nice bit of rigid plastic as a lever.

    3. Sequin

      Re: Television repair

      My TV took to switching itself off after 20 minutes or so recently. I opened it up, took the part number for the power supply board and bought one from ebay for £15. waited two days for it to arrive, swapped it out in 5 minutes and the set is working fine again. Most moder LCD TVs have three boards - power, display and bbacklight - each is easily swapped and readily available for most brands - no need forschematics or a soldering iron any more.

  29. YetAnotherXyzzy

    Long ago when I did that sort of work, one of my pro bono clients was the town's arts center. I appreciated the center's work, and in particular I admired the staff, putting in yeoman's work for wages that were low even for being in a still-developing corner of a still-developing country. One day Cooperación Española inflicted, er, gifted the center with an Arts Consultant, complete with capital A and capital C, with a "volunteer" stipend that was exceeded the combined wages of the center's entire staff. Among her many talents was messing up the office computer, then phoning me directly to let me CLEARLY know how UNACCEPTABLE my work is and that I MUST come to address my shoddy workmanship NOW because her worship is too important to be putting up with that NONSENSE.

    Apologies for the shouty caps; I'm trying to convey her tone.

    I'm sorry to say that I was not tactful in my reply. Not because she deserved tact but because I hadn't let myself drop to her level so quickly. But once I calmed down, I had a chat with the center's director, a personal friend. With that the Arts Consultant was gone, taking her A and C with her. And I fixed the computer.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    No, you're paying me £1 for 15 minutes worth of work and £49 for the 25 years it took me to learn how to do this in 15 minutes.

    If it was "easy" you'd have done it yourself.

    1. Simon Robinson

      Re: itemization

  31. Kev99 Silver badge

    Some people will spend a pound to save a penny. Others will squeeze the penny so hard the Queen cries. Such is the human animal.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Others will squeeze the penny so hard the Queen cries."

      Hey, don't knock it!! That's how copper wire was invented :-)

      1. jake Silver badge

        I thought copper wire was invented when a Yorkshireman and a Scot were arguing over the ownership of a farthing?

    2. ya fishy user name

      The left-pondian version is "so tight with a penny, if you take their fingerprints, you get Lincoln's head"

      Eventually all those saved pennies can buy one of these =>

  32. TooOldForThisSh*t


    In the early 90's after my father had passed, my mother decided she needed a computer. I helped her find what she needed and she promptly signed up for a night class at the local technical school. Anytime she had problems or questions she would call me and ask me to stop after work. I always obliged and my payment was always a nice dinner and a chance to catch her up on news of the grand kids.

    Years have passed now and at 102 she no longer can use the computer and I miss those calls and dinners... damn it's dusty in here.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    He quoted a price. They agreed on the price. THe fact the job was easy and finished quicker than expected is irrelevant.

    Pay the man - and give him a healthy tip for insulting him with your questioning the rate.

  34. trindflo Bronze badge

    Engineer vs. Business mentality

    This is a nasty joke in business school: "Engineers are smart in many ways, but not when it comes to knowing what to charge". The business mentality is that you never charge what your time is worth, you charge what it is worth to the client. That's why businesses want to charge different rates to different customers. Don't get yourself socially engineered into the poor-house.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Engineer vs. Business mentality

      "Engineers are smart in many ways, but not when it comes to knowing what to charge".

      Businessman: My laptop stopped working, fix it.

      Engineer: It's not broken. You forgot to charge it.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Engineer vs. Business mentality

        Back in my day, the conversation went something like this:

        Management: MARKETING SEZ WE GOTTA SHIP IT!!!!

        Engineer: Sorry, it's not ready to ship. I'm not signing off on it.


        Engineer: Ok, Marketing, YOU sign off on it.

        Marketing: BUT WE'RE NOT QUALIFIED TO DO THAT!!!

        Management: Now, now, Engineer. Be nice to Marketing. They have ADVERTISING!!!

        Engineer: Then you sign off on it, Management. I'm not going to.

        Management: We could FIRE you for this insurrection!!!

        Engineer: Go ahead. Then you'll never have a working product.

        Management: ::sputter::


        Marketing: Yeah! That's EXACTLY what we'll do! (BTW, what does "sign off" mean?).

        Management: (It's a technical term. I don't really get it either. Don't worry about it.)

        Marketing: (Thank heavens for that. Ignoring technical stuff is easy for me.)

        Engineer: Good luck with that, guys. I'm taking early retirement. Have fun.

        RIP, DEC

  35. elaar


    We once had a seized and rounded wheel nut on my partner's car, and it needed to come off to replace the brake disc to get through an MOT.

    Halfords and 2 independents were unable to do it, and then some young kid at Kwikfit with a tool that was better-than-every-one-elses got it off in 2minutes. He wanted nothing for his efforts, so I went and bought him £20 worth of beer.

    So that would be ~ £600 per hour, which I was overjoyed at, because it got us out of a very difficult situation.

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Re: Mechanic

      What did he do? Tap a reverse threaded screw into the middle of it?

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Mechanic

        Look up "Spiral Flute Bolt Extractor".

        I have a couple kits of these things. They are not a day-to-day tool, but when you need one, you really need one. Handy when restoring old tractors. Use with a good impact tool, or with a large ratchet & breaker bar.

        Hint: Don't waste your money on 3/8 drive ... get half inch, and/or 3/4 if you're a pro. The smaller size is guaranteed to break the knuckle off the drive tool under load.

        Failing that, drill it out. Be very careful so as not to ruin the rim. You'll have to replace the lug as well as the nut, but they are inexpensive. I've had some luck grinding a flat spot on the ruined lug (another real use for a Dremel), drilling a small hole and then using a small cold chisel to crack the nut. This last is most likely to cause damage to a rim. Be careful.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    When I do a job in the house myself - people often say "why don't you pay a professional". The answer is that too many "professionals" are going to do the job as fast as they can with the handiest/cheapest (for them) materials - and with no thought to what might happen in the future. Next time round it costs more to undo their bodges.

    If you find someone you can trust to do the job properly - then they are worth their salt. The problem can be that they become popular and are tempted to outsource their excess jobs to the very people you are trying to avoid.

    1. Caver_Dave Silver badge
      Big Brother

      That's exactly why my wife asks me to do things.

      "You have the time to do it to my satisfaction!"

      I once caught her measuring the thickness of mortar on a curving (part of an oval) garden wall I was building, because she could see that because of the curve I wasn't using a string line.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I was very good at diagnosing "impossible" IT system problems. One of my bosses thought that I should use my down-time doing his assigned menial tasks. He could never understand that it needs the down-time to keep your skills honed for when there is an emergency.

  38. Disk0

    Rates? Schmates!

    How much time have you done jack-all on the clock? You, too, should be paid only for the time you actually produce something, best give the company a refund for all that downtime you sat out being all incompetent and petulent and unproactive instead of using that time to secure your data. Does HR know about you?

  39. Daedalus


    It's been some years since I shopped back in the old country, but given that I paid a fiver for a measly adapter plug to let me charge my phone, fifty quid for anything seems like a bargain. Depending, of course, on the vintage of this tale. It could be from the time when I spent fifty quid on a second-hand guitar, the equivalent today of (checks calculator) er, oh dear....

  40. Chris Manson

    The story about 'knowing how to fix something' is from Steinmetz

    One appeared on the letters page of Life magazine in 1965, after the magazine had printed a story on Steinmetz. Jack B. Scott wrote in to tell of his father’s encounter with the Wizard of Schenectady at Henry Ford’s River Rouge plant in Dearborn, Michigan.

    Steinmetz and his contemporaries

    Steinmetz and his contemporaries (Tesla, Einstein and others) at the Marconi wireless station in New Jersey. Image courtesy of Wikicommons

    Ford, whose electrical engineers couldn’t solve some problems they were having with a gigantic generator, called Steinmetz in to the plant. Upon arriving, Steinmetz rejected all assistance and asked only for a notebook, pencil and cot. According to Scott, Steinmetz listened to the generator and scribbled computations on the notepad for two straight days and nights. On the second night, he asked for a ladder, climbed up the generator and made a chalk mark on its side. Then he told Ford’s skeptical engineers to remove a plate at the mark and replace sixteen windings from the field coil. They did, and the generator performed to perfection.

    Henry Ford was thrilled until he got an invoice from General Electric in the amount of $10,000. Ford acknowledged Steinmetz’s success but balked at the figure. He asked for an itemized bill.

    Steinmetz, Scott wrote, responded personally to Ford’s request with the following:

    Making chalk mark on generator $1.

    Knowing where to make mark $9,999.

    Ford paid the bill.


  41. sebacoustic

    Pest control

    I once solved a town-wide pest control problem where a rodent infestation had taken hold to the point of threatening food supplies, only to be told that my highly sophisticated ultrasound based attractant was "suspicious" and "a sub-par effort", in short, the agreed-upon fee was flatly denied.

    I did take my revenge on this lot eventually. I ended up with a large family os stepchildren as a result which is a delight is a lot of ways, but proves to be costly now some of them are approaching university age: I do a lot of contracting for Capita Systems to pay for it all.

    1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Re: Pest control

      You are, so to speak, twisted.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Pest control

      You are the Pied Piper and I claim my, er...

      Can you do a very small side job and we call it even?

  42. darklord

    I was asked to do the same for a friend of a friend, but this was all their photographs New Baby and other stuff, nothing naughty I don't think (only new about the baby Pics as my friend told me thats what they wanted., I quoted 50 quid to retrieve the data, (same scenario) plus the cost to repair for parts only so no labour to get the PC back up and running if they wanted it.

    Anny way while i was in the throws of my IT expert knowledge mode. I thought copy all the data to a CD/DVD as i had the time, (I cant remember which now) and passed the info for repair to my friend and the cost for just the retrieval

    To be told dump the PC not even bother to return it and 50 quid for my time was too expensive for the data retrieval. and I was ripping them off. Bearing in mind the usual cost for data retrieval at this time was in the region of 12-1400 pounds.

    Due to the Tone of the response, i too great delight in breaking up the disk and taking the PC to the Dump on my next workshop clear-out.

    At this time i do remember PC world where charging 50 quid just to take a PC into the store for repair.

    Some will say it was callous but I wasnt touting for the business as this was over and above my day job.

  43. Richard Cranium


    Houdini reportedly made his escapes very quickly but concealed it to build the tension and to justify the ticket-price. If the punters had paid for a 90 minute show and it was all over in 15 minutes they might start asking for their money back.

    To avoid cost-disputes about software tweaks I do something similar. When a simple task can be completed in a couple of minutes I always wait an hour or two before sending the good news (and invoice).

    I often refrain from saying "yes I can" but instead something like "I think that should be possible but I'll need to take a look and get back to you".

    Although the task may take 5 minutes the overhead of customer communication consumes significantly more of my professional time. It takes time to understand and clarify their requirements, maybe to refresh my knowledge of the code, to document the changes in the code or my own notes and any end-user documentation. As they never read the documentation, supplement that with explicit advice of any related actions or procedure changes they may need - and simply to advise that the problem has been fixed or the new feature added.

    I've spend hours and $$$ developing my skill set at my own expense, the customer needs to make a contribution to those costs.

    I've got office space, computers, software packages, office furniture, stationery and utility bills to pay. That's all part of the cost of providing the service too.

    It's very easy to under-value ones' knowledge and expertise. I may understand and find a task straightforward/easy/obvious but that only means it is for me. When my central heating pump failed I could have bought a replacement and the necessary plumbing tools but even with the help of an online video tutorial I'd not have done the job as well as the professional and I'd have spent hours researching the best pump, the best tools and watching "how to" videos. I was quite happy to pay £100 (plus the cost of the pump) for the guy who was on-site for little over an hour.

    I learnt my lesson years ago when I was invited to dinner and a dip in the friend/client's large indoor pool and "perhaps you could take a look at my PC" which of course turned out to be an unholy mess. These days I deny all knowledge and understanding of PC/Mac/Mobile-phone hardware and config, I empathise and refer them to a local PC shop "I use when I have similar issues". In similar vein I deny any knowledge of the workings of popular apps like social media and suggest they ask a teenager.

    Worst of all is SEO - "could you just help get my web site to do better in Google search results?" NOT F***ING LIKELY (and not recommending an SEO either as I'll get a share of the blame when the SEO charges a fortune for delivering almost no improvement).

  44. MarthaFarqhar

    I'm changing career to creative accountant

    One of my friends brothers has a knackered laptop. A 2013 Dell running Windows 7.

    After his daughter spilt juice on it, he messages me frantically about fixing it.

    I told him to immediately power it off, leave it off. I'd look into getting parts, he might have been lucky that it was only the keyboard that was tatered.

    Got the part numbers, got him prices, and was then told that was too expensive, he'd have to think.

    Couple of days later

    "It can't boot.Why can't it boot"

    Told him that it could be the juice has gotten past the keyboard, and why the chuffing hell did you switch it on again. Was told "That's what all IT people do, turn it off and on again"

    It got better, he asked could I install the drive into a Mac, which then sparked the conversation that newer Macs had SSDs, so I'd probably have to get an adapter/caddy for him to use. That sounded expensive to him. Especially as he had about 300 quid to get a Mac laptop with 512 GB storage, and he needed 1TB for his music, plus some software to use with a mixing desk. He'd got a licence for one piece of software, he just needed to buy Logic Pro X.(174.99 from the App Store)

    So from 300 quid for a laptop, minus software that was more than half of that, plus the possibility he might have to pay for a new license for other software from the PC for the Mac and the dock for his hard drive, what spec Mac was he looking for.

    2017 MacBook Pro. Said I must know someone with one to sell.

    I asked if he had been on the pop as his figures were all over the place.

    He's told me he's going to get his MP3s off his hard drive and will let me know when that's done so we can talk about a discount as he's doing the hard work himself.

    I didn't dare ask if he had backups.

  45. neeksgeek

    Image Archiving

    I’m a Photoshop and graphic arts instructor, and obviously this puts me at the crossroads of computers and photography. Two things that are mysterious to many people! I do some consultation from time to time. So I had a “client” for a very brief period. Ninety minutes. He called me after a mutual friend gave him my number, he wanted me to diagnose a problem he was having reading a USB drive, and he also wanted a large collection of hard drives and CDs, containing around 20 years of digital photography, backed up, verified, and cataloged on a new Mac. I told him that my hourly rate was $30 and he asked me to come take a look. To me that’s agreement, but I admit I should get it in writing. The project would probably have taken several weeks, working a couple hours a day, two or three days a week (I would not be taking it home with me, I’d be expected to cone to him each day). But it looked doable. So after the 90 minutes I asked for $45 … and he handed me a five dollar bill. I took it, sort of shocked, and left, then once I got down the road I told him over the phone to call Geek Squad instead. I put the five bucks in the tip jar at the restaurant where I ate lunch.

  46. andymbush

    Many historical examples

    Often attributed also to Edison

    Example: [Cerf, 1945]

    Nikola Tesla visited Henry Ford at his factory, which was having some kind of difficulty. Ford asked Tesla if he could help identify the problem area. Tesla walked up to a wall of boilerplate and made a small X in chalk on one of the plates. Ford was thrilled, and told him to send an invoice.The bill arrived, for $10,000. Ford asked for a breakdown. Tesla sent another invoice, indicating a $1 charge for marking the wall with an X, and $9,999 for knowing where to put it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Many historical examples

      Not Tesla. it was Steinmetz. See ... 2 or 3 other posters above who included sources.

  47. PhilCoder

    Rule #23: if it was quick it must have been easy

    Sadly, this tale is a good example of one of the most pervasive grumbles in IT: if it was quick it must have been easy. In high profile projects it is often best to over-dramatize the scale and difficulty of the IT work, to reassure management.

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